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The Good Fight Gets Chatty About Online Speech

The firm matches wits with a Milo Yiannopoulos-esque troll

Noel Kirkpatrick

The Good Fight is sort of a weird show, isn't it? While I don't think that "Social Media and Its Discontents" is necessarily odder than last week's episode in which this TV show directly addressed another TV show, it's still a bit of an oddball of an episode, one in which we have a Milo Yiannopoulos-like troll belting out "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" while getting ready to receive a blow job in front of most of the show's major characters.

Yes, it's pretty outlandish, but it and the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit/NBC needling are outlandish things with a larger point. I think back to some of the particularly odd things The Good Wife did -- the episode in which Fred Thompson shows up not playing Fred Thompson but playing a Fred Thompson-esque person was also the episode that kept video conferencing in Hugo Chavez's torso, for instance -- were often good but still maintained an air of "Wouldn't it be funny if...?" to them.

Good Fight, so far, isn't content to settle for ending there. The show is using the avatars of these topics -- fear of Donald Trump through broadcast TV, abusive speech on the web through the Platonic representations of alt-right men and a riff on Yiannopoulos -- to explore and discuss social issues of the day.

This week, Neil Gross (John Benjamin Hickey) tasked the firm with figuring out how to regulate speech on two of his social media sites since they've become "the wild west of racism of sexism" before Disney gets scared and pulls its online advertising dollars. What followed was members of the firm starting to read flagged posts and then avatars of the writers popping up on screen to actually read them. Viewers are treated to a small taste of the discourse in certain parts of the web, complete with definitions for SJWs, cucks, and doxing.

And then the members of the firms with names start debating the merits of the posts, whether or not such posts constitute hurtful speech, abuse, harassment, etc. It was a little odd to spend so much time on this, but again, it's oddness with a purpose. Take note of the breakdown of opinions and voices. The women -- Diane (Christine Baranski), Lucca (Cush Jumbo), Barbara (Erica Tazel), Maia (Rose Leslie) and Marissa (Sarah Steele) -- made cases for the effects and context of speech as harms while Julius (Michael Boatman) took the position that "sensitivities" shouldn't be a factor and Adrian (Delroy Lindo) wanted to focus on the legal side of things above all (he also quickly defends rap music).

It's purposefully written this way. The women became representatives of women who are easily and quickly abused online through messages not unlike the ones presented in the episode, while the two men are either telling them to take their feelings out of it entirely or avoiding both sides to lay claim in an even more neutral-seeming place: the law.

This discourse in a show is deeply political, obviously, and it's set in the tradition of scripted TV like a Norman Lear sitcom, an Aaron Sorkin series, or, most recently, The Carmichael Show, tackling current events and social issues. And it was done with with verve and earnestness (though, not too much, thankfully), and many perspectives were represented before the episode settled into, arguably, the end result of the debate over online speech.

John Cameron Mitchell, The Good Fight

John Cameron Mitchell, The Good Fight

Elizabeth Fisher/CBS

Felix Staples (John Cameron Mitchell, clearly having a grand ol' time) was the episode's Milo Yiannopoulos. This section of the episode dug into Yiannopoulos as a public figure, having Felix repeat many of Yiannopoulos's particular talking points -- how can the alt-right love him when he's gay?; he may be racist, but he also love black men; he's Jewish, so he can't really be anti-Semitic, etc. -- while also positioning himself as a guy who just pushes boundaries to push boundaries to be funny ("Everybody likes me, the guy who doesn't care!")

I say that Staples/Yiannopoulos is the end result of the online speech debate because the extreme nature of online speech can come off as very performative even if the opinions and ideologies beneath the performance aren't feigned. Diane pegged Staples as a clown that is able to make decent points -- like reading the pro-choice post to make a case about abusive language from both sides -- but that those points get lost in the sexism and racism that he may not even actually believe. They're just useful tools to get attention, hence the countering of Felix's attention-getting by simply reinstating Felix's account so he no longer has a platform on which to play the victim. You can't troll if there's no one to troll, basically.

All of these hot-button current event cases of the week work exceedingly well, overall. It makes Good Fight insanely and overtly relevant in a way that very few scripted shows on any TV platform are, and that makes it stand out in the crowded landscape of TV choices.

However, it also adds to the disjointed nature of the show, the extra layer of oddness to the show. The show often feels like three shows battling it out in one show: current events and the law, the Rindells, and Lucca's romantic life.

The latter two are so-so to interesting, and they're finally beginning to overlap with the more propulsive law firm setting, which should help them both. As it stands right now, however, there's a very good political show happening, and two less well developed and connected shows happening in the background. It creates a jumbled but very enjoyable discordant experience. Or, more simply, it's an odd but very good show.

The Good Fight streams new episodes on CBS All Access on Sundays.

(Full disclosure: is owned by CBS.)